Venomous Snake Safety

Warm weather is here! Snakes, lizards and other wild creatures are on the move as they move from one seasonal habitat to another.
As outside temperatures increase in the spring, snakes become more active as they search for food.

Recent flooding in areas around Arkabutla Lake has increased the water area, which makes it more likely you may encounter a snake during this spring or summer.

People will most likely to encounter snakes in their yards or gardens. Be careful when moving brush piles or stacked wood. Homeowners should be aware that snakes could be present and keep an eye out for them while working on their property.

If you are heading to the woods or out hiking it’s a good idea to learn the snakes in your area and be able to tell the difference between venomous and nonvenomous snakes. You can find information about snakes in Mississippi at the website, which features pictures and ways to identify the snakes of Mississippi.

Rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes and cottonmouths (also known as water moccasins) are venomous snake species found throughout the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC). Here in DeSoto County we have a few Rattlesnakes; but, Copperheads and Cottonmouths are the most common venomous species and the ones to watch out for.

Rattlesnakes – are the largest of the venomous snakes in the United States. They can accurately strike at up to one-third their body length. Rattlesnakes use their rattles or tails as a warning when they feel threatened. Rattlesnakes may be found sunning themselves near logs, boulders, or open areas. These snakes may be found in most work habitats including the mountains, prairies, deserts, and beaches.

Poisonous Snakes in DeSoto County, MS

Copperhead Snake

Copperhead Snake

Copperheads – vary in color from reddish to golden tan. The colored bands on their body are typically hourglass-shaped. Most adults are 18–36 inches long. They are not usually aggressive, but will often freeze when frightened. People are more likely to be bitten when they unknowingly step on or near a copperhead. Copperheads are often found in forests, rocky areas, swamps, or near sources of water like rivers.

Photo: Copperhead photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Cottonmouth Snake

Cottonmouth Snake

Cottonmouths – average 50–55 inches long. The adult snake’s skin is dark tan, brown, or nearly black, with vague black or dark brown crossbands. Juveniles have a bold crossbanded pattern of brown or orange with a yellow tail. Cottonmouths are frequently found in or around water. They do not scare easily and will defend themselves when threatened.

Photo: Cottonmouth photo courtesy of Larry Jarrett

Good tips for avoiding snakebites

The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science offers some good tips for avoiding snakebites:

  • LEAVE ALL SNAKES ALONE unless you have a specific purpose and have been trained to deal with them.
  • DON’T KILL SNAKES. Nearly all snakebites take place while people are killing the snake or otherwise tormenting, capturing, skinning, or handling them.
  • WATCH WHERE YOU WALK, SIT OR PLACE YOUR HANDS. Snakes like to hide in stumpholes, under boards and sheet metal, in brush piles, and next to fallen logs, if If you encounter a snake, simply back away from it.
  • LEAVE DEAD SNAKES ALONE. Recently killed snakes can bite reflexively. Never try to examine the mouth for the presence of fangs to determine if the snake is venomous. The fangs are enclosed within gum tissue and maybe difficult to locate.
  • SNAKES BITE only when threatened.

Tips if bitten by a snake

The CDC estimates that 7,000–8,000 people per year receive venomous bites in the United States, and about 5 of those people die. Some experts figure there are probably another 30,000 bites that aren’t reported. Of those deaths, the majority are because the victim did not seek medical aid.Estimates of 25% to 50% of bites are dry bites, meaning no venom is released. According to the CDC, people should take the following steps if they are bitten by a snake:
• Seek medical attention as soon as possible (dial 911 or call local Emergency Medical Services.)
• Try to remember the color and shape of the snake, which can help with treatment of the snake bite.
• Keep still and calm. This can slow down the spread of venom.
• Inform your supervisor.
• Apply first aid if you cannot get to the hospital right away.
Lay or sit down with the bite below the level of the heart.
Wash the bite with soap and water.
Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.

Do NOT do any of the following:

• Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it.
• Do not wait for symptoms to appear if bitten, seek immediate medical attention.
• Do not apply a tourniquet.
• Do not slash the wound with a knife.
• Do not suck out the venom.
• Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.
• Do not drink alcohol as a painkiller.
• Do not drink caffeinated beverages.

Snakes are an important part of our outdoor environment

Snakes eat mice and other critters that could threaten other species. Snakes don’t want to hurt you – humans are not their prey. You can enjoy the outdoors by understanding the snakes are an integral part of our ecosystem and they should be respected and not feared. Most dangerous snake encounters can be prevented with common sense and awareness of your surroundings.